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Joe Burrow
QB KlassRoom

QB Klassroom: LSU QB Joe Burrow

by Derrik Klassen
Updated On: October 16, 2019, 1:20 am ET
LSU QB Joe Burrow vs Florida (10/12/19)
 Left OutsideLeft MiddleRight MiddleRight OutsideTotal
20+1/2  1/1 (1 TD)2/3 (1 TD)
16-20  1/1 1/1
11-151/12/2  3/3
6-10 2/3 (1 TD)1/11/1 (1 TD)4/5 (2 TD)
0 1/1  1/1
Total4/59/10 (1 TD)6/63/3 (2 TD)22/24 (3 TD)

Situational Accuracy

Outside the Pocket: 2/2 (1 TD)

Under Pressure: 1/1 (1 TD)

Red Zone: 2/2 (1 TD)

3rd/4th Down: 3/3 (1 Conversion)

Forced Adjustments: 1

One-year phenomena are not new to the college football scene, but typically those players’ one stunning season is their lone season of starting play. Dwayne Haskins, Kyler Murray, Mitchell Trubisky, Cam Newton, etc. were all one-year stars who propelled themselves to being first-round picks. All of them only started for that one season (in the FBS, at least, in Newton’s case), however, and gave viewers precious little to contextualize their skills with beforehand. They just suddenly arrived and looked like pros. 

LSU’s Joe Burrow is of a different kind of one-year phenomenon, a kind that so rarely shows up. Burrow was initially a backup at Ohio State before being passed over as the starter in favor of Haskins. With the news that Burrow would be riding the bench, he transferred as a graduate to LSU in 2018, where he started right away. Burrow was middling in his first season with the Tigers and did not look a heck of a lot better than the typical SEC quarterback who gets drafted late on Day 3 solely because they play in that conference. That same player did not return to Baton Rouge in 2019. 

Burrow has looked transformed in his senior season. Through seven weeks (six games, for Burrow), the LSU redshirt senior passer leads the country in both completion percentage, 79.6%, and passer rating, 218.11. Both numbers would be single-season FBS records, if they hold. Burrow is also tied for second in touchdowns passes with 25, trailing only presumptive No.1 overall selection Tua Tagovailoa

While one might be inclined to believe a sudden leap the likes of Burrow’s would be dependent on highlights, that has been far from the case. Burrow’s dominance has been boring in a way. He does not have a big arm and he is not a particularly daring or creative player. Rather, Burrow shows a deep understanding of LSU’s new spread offense and throws with the best accuracy of any passer in college football. Burrow does not make many exciting plays, but he almost always makes the right play and capitalizes on opportunities. 

As the chart at the top of the page shows, Burrow was inaccurate on just two passes versus the Gators. The first inaccurate pass was a deep ball down the left sideline for wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. In all honesty, while the throw was not where it needed to be, it had a chance to be caught if Chase has made a good play on it. Instead, Florida cornerback C.J. Henderson made a fantastic play to undercut the ball and bat it away. Sometimes that’s just going to happen. Burrow’s only other inaccurate pass was on a ‘glance’ RPO (run-pass option) in which a Florida defender perfectly defended the route — the only route Burrow was allowed to throw on the play, by design. 

Speaking of the ‘glance’ RPO, it’s those spread passing concepts that have helped Burrow ascend to new heights. LSU brought in Joe Brady, who has served under Joe Moorhead (Penn State OC at the time) and Sean Payton (New Orleans Saints HC), to be the pass-game coordinator and wide receiver coach. Brady’s injection of spread concepts and a fresh identity has gone leaps and bounds to make life easy on Burrow. 

This RPO is nothing special, but it presents the defense with a conflict previously unseen out of the Tigers. RPOs are simple in nature, but to execute every single time, the quarterback needs sharp decision making and a sudden draw of the ball to make a throw as soon as possible, if he does choose to pull the ball instead of give it. Burrow flashes that sharp mind and sleight of hand in this clip. After riding the mesh point until the read/conflict player declared himself a run defender, Burrow quick pulls the ball up and snaps it out to the wide receiver. The throw does not have much room for error with the cornerback trailing tightly, but Burrow sticks it right in the wide receiver's hands. Again, this design is nothing special, but it’s a simple way to force a conflict on the defense and Burrow executed on it. 

Across the intermediate portion of the field, Burrow shows the same quickness and conviction. Not only is Burrow quick to diagnose the defense in front of him, but he wastes no time in converting his mental trigger into a physical trigger. He rips the ball as soon as he gets the read or coverage he was looking for. That should be commonplace for any good quarterback, but even the best college passers with professional hopes struggle to play on schedule every single time. Burrow can handle it. 

Here is an example of Burrow being able to quickly diagnose the defense, even with the disguised front. Florida try getting cute up front with a ‘sim pressure’ look out of a two-high shell. The two-high coverage should tell Burrow that the slot receiver to his left can get open underneath the safety, but without confirmation of where the hook defender will be (if there were to be any at all), Burrow cannot know for sure if the route will be open. 

Upon receiving the snap, Burrow immediately looks toward the left and sees two of Florida’s defenders at the line of scrimmage drop. One defender (#33) completely turns the other way and runs to the other side of the field, while the other (#7) turns his back to Burrow and where the receiver wants to go. #7 is playing with his hips to the flat because he knows he has to trigger toward any flat threat and will pass off the slot receiver if he goes vertical, which he does. The moment Burrow confirms #7 is passing off the slot receiver, he fires and sticks the throw perfectly in stride before the safety can close on the route. That is not a miraculous tight-window throw, but again, Burrow operates with this machine-like efficiency on every single snap. It’s tough to find Burrow’s strength of consistency at any level of football. 

And how about down the field? Brady and Burrow have that covered, too. Don’t worry. 

Switch verts is a favorite among Air Raid and spread coaches everywhere. Against defenses that want to play man or match coverages, like the Gators do in this clip, it is a perfect route combination for creating traffic and getting someone open down the field. On this play, Burrow opens with his eyes aiming toward the half-field safety to the play side (#2). Burrow eyes him through his drop back and recognizes that the safety is not gaining width and depth to cover the deep sideline, but instead stands put and turns inside to prepare himself to match the inside vertical. Burrow does not hesitate to immediately turn and rip it to the outside vertical, which should be a 1-vs-1 at worst considering the safety is not going to be playing the deep sideline. At best, the receiver runs wide open after the cornerbacks get lost like they did on this play, and the offense gets six. 

Like in the other two plays, notice the pace with which Burrow plays and the accuracy he throws with. There is no pause or stutter in Burrow’s process. Everything is smooth and executed exactly as detailed in the playbook. The ball placement is even more impressive. Burrow does not just throw catchable passes, he puts them in the exact right spot to allow for an easy reception and a seamless transition from receiver to ball carrier. 

If anything somewhat exciting jumps out from Burrow’s play, it is how he can move in and around the pocket to make throws as easy as possible. Burrow shows off the subtle adjustments in the pocket and ability to create new throwing lanes that many of the best prospects in recent seasons have, including Dwayne Haskins and Lamar Jackson. 

This does not look like much because the pocket is not particularly crowded, but the best quarterbacks make small adjustments like this even when kept clean. Rather than stand put and throw from a tighter angle across the field, Burrow makes a short slide to his left to make for a cleaner throwing angle to the receiver and minimize the throw distance as much as possible. The extra yard or two Burrow saves by sliding to the receiver can often be the difference between a defender catching up to the ball or not. Burrow’s 2019 season is filled with pocket and angle adjustments such as this. 

On many of these clips, the wide receiver has been wide open. Much of LSU’s offensive success should be credited to Brady for cooking up such an effective scheme. It’s still on Burrow to execute, though, and he has played within the system better than just about any other quarterback in the country could. 

Open throws is not the situational context to hold against Burrow. What can be grounds for concern is that Burrow rarely faced pressure against a typically strong Gators front. While the Gators did only bring more than four rushers on three occasions, they should have been able to get home to Burrow more than once. Of course, part of the lack of pressure is on Burrow for getting the ball out on time, but LSU ran plenty of intermediate and deep concepts that should have been pressurable. Similar to Haskins or either of the Oklahoma QBs over the past two years, it can be difficult to get a comfortable read on Burrow’s ability to function against consistent pressure in games like these. That being said, it would not be fair to hold the lack of evidence against him.

It is safe to say Burrow has earned himself first-round consideration by now. Barring a complete collapse, there is not a whole lot of “new” Burrow could show through the next half-season. His skill set, as it stands, looks like that of a quality NFL player. How far Burrow can ascend up draft boards, potentially even past Oregon’s Justin Herbert, is dependent on how well he handles the postseason cycle, namely the Senior Bowl, NFL combine, and various interview processes. Assuming all of those things go well, Burrow just might end up the top-10 pick nobody saw coming a year in advance.

Derrik Klassen

Derrik Klassen is an NFL, NFL Draft and college football writer covering CFB and NFL Draft for NBC Sports EDGE. Derrik also covers the NFL for Football Outsiders. Find him on Twitter @QBKlass.